Clinton orders more funds for black colleges

November 02, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, after an emotional speech about inner-city children preoccupied with death, yesterday signed an executive order designed to channel federal money and expertise to historically black colleges and universities.

"With this executive order . . . we'll expand the opportunities for participation in federal programs," Mr. Clinton told a gathering of black college presidents. "Ultimately, we'll strengthen the capacity of historically black colleges and universities to provide quality education."

But yesterday's ceremony ended on a somber note as the president, citing an article in yesterday's Washington Post about 11-year-old children in the District of Columbia who spend their idle time planning their own funerals, the president became highly emotional.

His voice husky, and appearing to fight back tears, he told the educators: "We are squandering our most valuable resource, our young people, at a rate that no other nation would tolerate. We permit many of them to live in circumstances, frankly, that are more dangerous than those experienced by people we go halfway around the world to protect."

The first presidential order relating to the black colleges was signed by President Jimmy Carter and was designed to improve the access of the nation's 104 predominantly black schools to research grants and other federal programs.

The effort was strengthened under President George Bush, who established a presidential advisory board on historically black colleges and universities. Yesterday's order requires each agency in the federal government to set goals for cooperating and assisting the schools.

"This reaffirms the federal government's commitment to preserving and enhancing the nation's historically black colleges and universities," said Morgan State University President Earl S. Richardson, who was present at the signing ceremony. "The state of Maryland has begun to put resources in our school. Now we're looking for the federal government -- and the private sector -- to join in moving our university forward."

A new challenge to these schools has come in the shape of a lawsuit by the Justice Department and a group of black plaintiffs from Mississippi, which challenges the funding formulas in the state's 144-year-old university system.

But with little money at their disposal, Mississippi lawmakers have insisted they might have to close some schools to comply with the ruling, a solution that has caused consternation among many faculty, students and alumni of the nation's historically black colleges.

While they did not comment on the case, to be tried in Oxford, Miss., in Feburary, the president and Vice President Al Gore both expressed support for preserving the schools.

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